Valentine’s Day Special: Science and love

In Barrett’s story, The Behavior of the Hawkweeds, the female protagonist feels a special connection with her husband’s understudy which escalates into a tense encounter between the three which would make any turtle want to retreat into his awkward tent.


This scene was the subject of passionate debate among the class: party 1 condemned the protagonist to the status of voluptuous temptress while party 2 blamed the understudy for carrying the “sex-driven natural bias of the man to mistake friendliness for flirtation.”

Which party do I sympathize with?  I guess neither really.  I’m not trying to cop out, but I see valid points to both sides which I do not feel are mutually exclusive.  On the one hand, the protagonist’s husband kind of seems to be a jerk… if nothing else he is at least oblivious that his usurpation of his wife’s story disregards everything that makes it an important part of her as a person.  Not that there’s anything wrong with the way he tells the story for the sake of inspiring his students, but as it is told again and again throughout the years it ends up being too much about him… about his students and about his career.  It never occurs to the husband to ask how his wife got this information and how it is important to her.  It is no wonder that the wife feels a special connection with the understudy when someone finally takes the time to appreciate the emotional significance of the Mendel story.

On the other hand, can you blame the understudy for reacting the way he did?  As party 1 pointed out, her language is certainly suggestive.  As the understudy is a young scientist with his future career on the line, there may be nothing more important to him than protecting this career.  Even if he overreacted and the wife was not suggesting anything, it is understandable that he would become defensive to protect himself.

To me, both the wife and the understudy seem to be acting in a very natural way considering their backgrounds: the protagonist as an emotionally deprived wife (partly due to her husband’s selfishness), and the understudy as a budding scholar.  I would even go so far as to say that the wife was being seductive but that this was a natural reaction to her situation which she didn’t mean to be interpreted by the understudy as sexual advancement.   As soon as the understudy makes the comment that “nothing can happen between them,” the wife suddenly realizes that her actions are being misunderstood by the young scholar.  In this way, the wife acted in a way that was very natural, however her actions were understandably misinterpreted by the understudy.  I think that neither the wife nor the understudy were in the wrong, it was just a communication breakdown!


Both were being driven by their passions, the wife wanting to be loved as a person and the scholar wanting to peruse his scientific passion.  I see neither the wife nor the understudy to blame here.



~ by johnsaba on February 15, 2010.

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